There is one little thing about kids and food that I am 99% sure of. But first, I should ask your opinion.
WHAT IS THE ONE DINNER FOOD THAT ALL KIDS LOVE?
Did you say spaghetti?
Yes! I knew it!
If you said hot dogs or hamburgers you might be right too, but I think spaghetti is the true Universal food of kids. And love. And all of the warm and cozy feelings.
But this isn’t a post about spaghetti, so what am I even talking about?
One day I will post a spaghetti recipe, but first I need to get it from my mom. Because my mom makes the best spaghetti in the world. (If you’re all Italian and proud, sorry. My Swedish mom is a great cook. And spaghetti really is just one of her many specialties. Just sayin’.)
And I do make spaghetti too. I have to because…My kids are normal (well, that’s stretching it but–) they love spaghetti. Even Levi, who doesn’t really like food, (unless you count gum?)… will lick a plate of spaghetti clean.
So, indeed I make spaghetti. Quite a bit.
But here’s the problem: I get bored of it. Bored of the noodles, bored of the flavor. Bored of the whole thing.
What I personally like more than spaghetti is baked pasta dishes. I don’t know what it is…the way the flavors come out in the oven, the creamy cheese I like to mix in there, or the simplicity of a one-pot dish.
I like that you can cook up the noodles and the sauce ahead of time, craft a nice big baking dish of all of the goods, and then it’s ready to bake when you are.
Another bonus is that the majority of the cleanup can be done in advance. I enjoy a meal so much more when there is NOT a pile of dishes waiting for me (or let’s be honest, my kids) in the sink.
For this reason, a baked pasta is a splendid choice to make for company. The pasta can be in the oven when the guests arrive, and I can actually join the party.
(Who wants to have their head over a hot stove while everyone else visits? Not this extrovert!)
As with everything, you can personalize this meal in many ways. You can go with or without the meat. You can substitute cottage cheese for the ricotta. And add whatever herbs and spices you like! I am using my Tower Garden fresh basil like crazy right now…because I’m pretty sure I have grown enough for the whole island of Oahu.
I titled this a weeknight meal, because I tend to imagine it on a rainy Wednesday night or something, but that is just me missing my childhood, and the Pacific Northwest, and being a weirdo.
But obviously: This recipe is entirely acceptable for a weekend. In fact, this might be an ideal Sunday dinner. 🙂
Here’s the printable recipe!
Weeknight Pasta Bake
- 1 package 16 ounces uncooked rigatoni or penne pasta
- 1 pound ground turkey or beef. optional.
- 1/2 medium onion chopped
- 1 container 15 ounces ricotta cheese (can substitute small curd cottage cheese, blended well.)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus 1/4 cup for topping
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 2 jars marinara sauce of choice 26 oz. each.
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tbsp. dried basil or 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped finely.
- 2-3 cups 12 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- fresh basil
- Optional, chopped vegetables, and your favorite seasonings
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Spray 13X9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.
In a large skillet coated with cooking spray or oil, cooked onion until soft.
Add meat and cook well.
In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan, eggs, salt and pepper, and basil.
Add marinara sauce to your ground meat, and spread 1/2 of mixture over bottom of prepared pan; spoon half of cooked pasta over sauce. Top with half of ricotta mixture and 1 cup mozzarella. Repeat layers of marinara sauce, pasta and ricotta mixture.
Top with remaining marinara sauce and mozzarella.
Cover with foil; bake 45 minutes to 1 hour or until bubbly. Uncover and bake about 5 minutes more or until cheese is completely melted. Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving. Top with fresh parmesan cheese.
ENJOY! And let me know if you try it. (tagging @thegrommom on instagram is always a fun way to see what you’re making! :))
Quick note: Today the boys and I are headed to Arizona for a fun week in the desert with my parents! (Dave has to work, boo.)
I have a post with a fun little post I hope to publish by the end of the week, so check back. ***Also, you can follow all of our desert adventures on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Sending you Aloha!
PS What is your kid’s favorite food? #curious